The Key to Selecting the Right Answer on the SAT & ACT: Part 2

Posted by Colleen on 8/16/17 4:56 PM


Welcome to part 2 of my blog on English strategies. If you didn’t read part 1, you can check it out here.

Picture it now: you’re breezing through the ACT English or SAT Writing and Language section. Every question come easily to you, as you follow what your ear tells you is right. You didn’t need to learn grammar after all!

And then on one question it hits you: all of the answers sound right. Your ear cannot hear which one is wrong. You look at the next question and your ear has failed you again: all of the answers sound wrong.

Luckily, we can easily avoid this nightmare. The exam does not need to be done by ear. Just like in the math and reading sections, in the English section, there are reasons why the right answers are right, and there are reasons why the wrong answers are wrong. Let’s breakdown some of the main culprits that can trick you in these instances and find solutions for them.

What is different about the answer choices?

The answers might all seem good—or all seem bad—but they are at least different from each other. Take a second to assess the ways in which the answer choices are different, so that you can narrow your focus down to the particular grammatical concept the question is asking about. You are probably looking at one of three categories.

1. The answer choices ask us to decide whether to continue or end a sentence.

  • These questions are usually designed to test that you can identify when a sentence is a run-on (when two sentences are incorrectly combined into one sentence) and when a sentence (even a long sentence like this one) is still a single sentence. Check to see if there are two main subjects and two main verbs. If so, the sentence needs to be split into separate sentences.
  • Need a refresher? Check out my subjects and verbs and 4 quick topics posts for more help on deciding whether sentences need to be divided. 

2. The answer choices want us to choose between different verbs.

  • Ask yourself if the tense needs to be changed. If some of the passage or sentence is in one tense, you need to make sure that your verb fits into the structure. 

Look at the following example:

The centerpiece of the work was dominated by images of native people being oppressed and includes an eagle symbolizing the United States.

  1. no change
  2. included
  3. including
  4. had included

Here, “was dominated” and “includes” are compound main verbs of the sentence. To keep the sentence consistent, they both need to be in the same tense. “Was dominated” is written in the past tense, so we need to change “included” to the past tense. “Included” (B) is the correct answer. 

  • Ask yourself if it is an issue of agreement. If there is a singular subject, you need a singular verb. If there is a plural subject, you need a plural verb. (Forgot how to do this? Check out my agreement post).
Research into regional varieties require time, effort, and resources.
  1. no change
  2. are requiring
  3. have required
  4. requires

The subject of the sentence—“Research”—is singular. Therefore, the verb must also be singular. “Requires” (D) is the correct answer. 

3. The answer choices are long phrases or sentences, where many words are different.

  • Very often, questions like this are asking you to fix a dangling modifier.

Phrases that describe other words need to come as close as possible to the words that they modify, or else the meaning might be unclear. 

Walking through the snowstorm, my nose soon became cold.

Here, “walking through the snow” is closest to “my nose,” meaning that the nose is walking! We need to reword it so that the sentence makes sense.

Walking through the snowstorm, I soon felt my nose becoming cold.

Check out more on my 4 quick topics post to learn more about dangling modifiers.

  • These questions can also be asking you to fix parallel structure Parts of the sentence that do the same work need to be in the same structure. Let me give an example:

I love talking, dancing, and when I can sleep.

“Talking,” “dancing,” and “when I can sleep,” are all doing the same work in the sentence. We could structure the sentence as “I love X, Y, and Z.”

When we look at X, Y, and Z, however, we can see that they are not in the same form. “Talking” and “dancing” are both -ing words, but “when I can sleep” does not look anything like the first two. This sentence, therefore, has a problem with parallel structure.

We could rewrite the sentence:

I love talking, dancing, and sleeping. 

Finally, you might need to change words in a sentence to eliminate a repetitive element of the sentence. Be careful that there are no grammatical problems before you decide that the question is asking you about style. 

Every day, Little Red Riding Hood made her daily trip to see her grandmother.

“Every day” and “daily” have the same meaning, so we can eliminate one of them.

Some Final Thoughts:

Congratulations! You have made it through the two-part series on English strategies for the ACT and SAT. You are now much more prepared with the material on the exam, the ways in which you should break down questions, and the methods to use to get the correct answer.

Let me leave you with two final thoughts.

  1. Read the entire sentence, not just the part that is underlined. Reading the entire sentence will provide you the context you need about sentence meaning, tense, and agreement. It is tempting—especially while under time pressure—to look only at the underlines, but doing this will lead you to overlook how the underlined portion works within its sentence.
  1. Read the title of the passage before you begin. Titles tell you what the passage is about and usually hint at what it will say. Reading the title lets you set yourself up for what is coming, allowing you to read the passage more smoothly.

Want more?

As always, check out more of my blog for further information, tips and tricks, and sample questions from the college entrance tests. Understanding the content, familiarizing yourself with the test, and going through practice tests are the best way to succeed. Also, contact Cambridge Coaching for more help!

More questions? Check out my other blog posts, and get in touch with Cambridge Coaching for private tutoring!

Work with Colleen!

Are you interested in reading more on the topic?

How do I use Punctuation on the ACT and SAT Exams?

What's the Difference Between the Old SAT and New SAT? 5 Major Changes on the Reading Section

Reading or Math? How to Decode Word Problems on the New SAT


Tags: ACT, SAT